SIR NOEL PIERCE COWARD
16th December 1899 – 26th March 1973
Once suggested that a perfect martini should be made by “filling a glass with Gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy,” implying that the less vermouth added to the Gin, the better the drink.
Noel Pierce Coward was born in the London suburb of Teddington into what he was later to describe as “genteel poverty”. He was the second son of a piano-tuner and a doting but dominant mother.
Making his stage debut at the age of eleven, he went on to write more than 50 plays including, Hay Fever, Private Lives, Design for Living and Blithe Spirit.
Coward was also a prolific songwriter, musical theater writer, poet, short story writer and novelist.
His stage and film acting career spanned 6 decades during which he starred in many of his own works.
The outbreak of WWII saw Coward volunteer for war work and serve in Paris running the British propaganda office. He was also involved in the Secret Service, trying to persuade the USA to help Britain. During this time, he was the subject of a lot of media criticism about his foreign travel, but was unable to respond as he was acting for the Secret Service.
His 1943 film drama, “In Which We Serve”, won him an Academy Honorary Award .
He achieved further success in the 1950’s in cabaret with such songs as, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”, “London Pride”, and, “I Went to a Marvellous Party” at the Café de Paris in London and other venues in Las Vegas.
The theatre critic, Kenneth Tynan wrote;
“To see him whole, in public and private personalities conjoined, you must see him in cabaret….he padded down the celebrated stairs….halted before the microphone on black-suede-clad feet, and, upraising both hands in a gesture of benediction, set about demonstrating how these things should be done. Baring his teeth as if unveiling some grotesque monument and cooing like a baritone dove, he gave us “I’llI See You Again” and the other bat’s-wing melodies of his youth. Nothing he does on these occasions sounds strained or arid, his tanned, leathery face is still an enthusiast’s….If it is possible to romp fastidiously, that is what Coward does. He owes little to earlier wits, such as Wilde or Labouchere. Their best things need to be delivered slowly, even lazily. Coward’s emerge with the staccato, blind impulsiveness of a machine gun.
Later in his career, Coward appeared in several films such as, “Around The World In Eighty Days”[‘56], “Our Man In Havana”, “Bunny Lake is Missing” [‘65], and “The Italian Job”[‘69].
By the late 1960’s, he was afflicted with arteriosclerosis and he struggled with repeated bouts of memory loss which affected his work, most noticeably when filming “The Italian Job”.
He passed away at his home in Jamaica on 26th March 1973 from heart failure.
The New Theatre which opened in 1903 in St. Martin’s Lane in London, was, after extensive refurbishment, re-named The Noel Coward Theatre in his honour when it re-opened in 2006.
We can only wonder what wondrous lyrics or prose he would have written about Oliver Twist London Distilled Gin had he still been with us to sample it and point it in the general direction of Italy.
For Gin and Country – Sir Noel we salute you.